The use of virtual reality for capacity building through sensory experiences

Mr Gerald Farrugia1

1The Disability Trust, Wollongong, Australia

Background:
Traditional physical sensory room spaces can be expensive to install, this is without considering ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Virtual reality sensory rooms are a cost-effective solution. Research shows that the use of virtual reality equipment can have a positive impact on the lives of individuals with various diagnoses.

Method:
The need for a sensory room was identified by the service. The cost of a conventional sensory room was prohibitive in its installation, which meant it was time to think outside the box.

Devika, a local and emerging tech company partnered with The Disability Trust. Through this partnership, the Evenness Sensory Room was trialled, purchased and installed.

Participants using the virtual reality sensory room experience sensory stimuli via sight through the lightweight goggles that display the images the participant sees, sound via high quality ear phones which gently sit over the ear and touch with the use of two easy grip hand controllers.

The participants experiencing the Evenness sensory room are in control of what they experience. Including the different interactive mediums in the virtual space.

Results:
Over the last 7 months the equipment has been trialled across multiple different user groups including individuals suitable for both open & supported employment to individuals with complex support needs. We have run approximately 35 users through the equipment, with most participants rebooking to use the equipment again. The next user group being invited to trial the equipment are individuals with mild to moderate vision impairments with some early outcomes being positive.

Data around the effectiveness of the virtual reality sensory room has been collected by observing a variety of individuals with a whole range of diagnoses including mental health diagnosis, sensory processing disorders and intellectual disabilities. This data has been collected observing participants behaviour whilst using the equipment, observing the participants behaviour immediately after using the equipment and where possible question and answers after using the equipment.

Data has shown participants with sensory processing disorders have found the experience regulating and soothing, the greatest benefit found has been to individuals who experience increased levels of anxiety.

Implications:
The equipment does not suit every individual, we have to strategize issues such as participants who are unable to tolerate wearing the lightweight googles or earpieces. Desensitisation work has commenced with these participants starting those individuals with lightweight sunglasses, eventually working up to trying the goggles on then moving to the full virtual reality experience.

Some other participants do not appreciate or even like the virtual reality experience or even sensory experiences at all, those participants are invited to trial an augmented version of the virtual reality sensory room. Further study will investigate and validate how the VR experience can be used for capacity building, with the development and implementation of a program potentially supported by Occupational Therapists.


Biography:

Gerald is a service delivery manager with The Disability Trust. Gerald oversees community participation programs across several regions along the South Coast of NSW.

Gerald has been coordinating the roll out of virtual reality equipment throughout the organisation.